Tag Archives: Ammonites

Balak- Vision and Truth

Balak, Morning Dew art by Laya Crust

This parsha features a non-Jewish prophet and his conversation with a donkey. It contains lessons about seeing what is in front of you and the judicious use of speech.

The parsha is unusual in a number of ways. No Jews are featured in the reading. Gd and His angel speak to a non-Jewish prophet – a sorcerer. A donkey is the literal voice of reason. The anticipated curse becomes a blessing, and a form of the word רואה, “see”, is figured 19 times in the reading, creating an overlay of vision to the story.

The Moabite king, Balak, was afraid of the Israelites. He had heard about their previous victories against the Amorites and Ammonites. He either exaggerated or was under the impression that the Israelites were a huge nation and said, “[they] will lick up all that are around us as the ox that licks up the grass of the field.” ( Bamidbar 22:4). These are very negative words, chosen to create fear of the Jews among the Moabites. He called for the well known pagan prophet to curse the Israelites. Bilaam was willing to curse them until Gd warned him not to. Ultimately Bilaam blessed the Israelites. Included in the blessings were the following phrases, “It is a nation that will dwell alone and will not be reckoned among the nations” (23:9) and “those who bless you are blessed and those who curse you are cursed” (24:9) .

This story reminds me of politics and attitudes today. Balak was fearful of the Israelites. He did not look to see what instigated the battles that the Israelites had won. He did not care whether or not the Israelites were defending themselves against enemy forces. Instead he saw an imagined scenario where the Israelites were the aggressors. He aggrandized and vilified them using inflamed terminology. Having been offered money and power Bilaam was willing to curse the foreign nation.

Bilaam’s donkey is the one player in this story who spoke with reason. Her eyes were open. She saw the angel of Gd and knew to stop in her tracks. When Bilaam said he would have liked to kill her for stopping, she pointed out that Bilaam was willing to ignore a long history of good service without investigating the reasons behind the donkey’s action.

Balaam and the Donkey by Gustav Dore

The rhetoric is high these days. The Prime Minister of Luxembourg has publicly insulted Israel and the Israeli ambassador because of a negative remark by Israel’s Minister of Education. Rather than looking at Israel’s entrenched policies supporting LGBTQ rights, and praising Israel’s policies PM Bettel chose to do the popular thing, He shamefully boycotted a dinner honouring the Israeli ambassador.

At the same time the western media and vociferous public applaud anti-Israel and anti-Jewish rhetoric because it is presented under the guise of , “I can’t be prejudiced because I am an immigrant/ woman / person of colour/ part of a minority.” The media and talking rabble are so invested in protecting the rights and freedoms of the above they refuse to look at the basic objective facts of a situation. They drink up the incendiary language and half truths that are presented. It’s time those who do the popular reporting look at underlying facts. They should stop and listen to the voice of reason, even if it seems to be coming from a donkey. Israel and Jews are castigated, and true to Bilaam’s words seem to be “… a nation that will dwell alone and will not be reckoned among the nations” (23:9)

In the haftarah the prophet Micah says, “The remnant of jacob will be in the midst of many nations like dew from the Lord, like raindrops on the grass.” (Micah 5:). It’s true. Like the dew we are a small element in the vastness of the world and the nations. But like the dew and the raindrops we nurture, create, and make the world a better place. From ethics and morality to medical and technical innovation we bring goodness to the world.

in these painful times it is important to remember these words , also from Micah, “And what does the Lord require of you? But to do justly and to love true loyalty, and to walk humbly with your Gd.” (Micah 6:8)

Iam saddened by the blindness of the media and the lack of respectful discourse in politics. But, let’s act justly and withtrue love and loyalty, and maybe we’ll tip the scales.

Have a Shabbat Shalom, Laya Remember: Come to the exhibit of my haftarah series and other art works at the Beth Tzedec Synagogue, on until October 24, 2019. The exhibit is open during synagogue hours, 7 days a week . For more information e-mail me at layacrust@gmail.com

Compass Rose by Laya Crust. Haftarah for Lech Lecha

Remember: Come to the exhibit of my haftarah series and other art works at the Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto, Canada. It continues until October 24, 2019. The exhibit is open during synagogue hours, 7 days a week . For more information e-mail me at layacrust@gmail.com


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Haftarah:  Judges 11: 1 – 33        Yiftach (Jephte)- warrior,  12th- 11th C. BCE

I’ve been away for a while, preparing for an art exhibit, but I’m back. Here are thoughts and art pertaining to this week’s haftarah

The haftarah for Hukkat focuses on the story of a man named Yiftach (Jephte) who led his tribe to victory against the Ammonites. Yiftach was an accomplished fighter. He was driven out of the family by his half brothers- the “legitimate” sons of Gilead who said they did not want to share their land inheritance with him. When the Ammonites declared war against B’nei Yisrael, the sons of Gilead begged their half-brother Yiftach to lead them to battle. They said they would appoint him as leader of their tribe if he led them to victory.

Yiftach tried to negotiate with the enemy but they would neither negotiate nor compromise.  With God’s support Yiftach led his army to victory and consequently he became leader for six years. ( The victory is followed by a terrible incident caused by an unnecessary oath Yiftach made to God. The result of this oath is a well known and  tragic story that is not included in this week’s haftarah.)

To paint Yiftach leading his fighters into battle I tried to find images of Jewish warriors. I looked at ancient paintings, medieval haggadot and early manuscript paintings confident that I would find something- after all b’nei Yisrael was involved in many battles in throughout the bible.  I couldn’t seem to find historical images of Jewish soldiers.

I finally came across this beautiful rendering from “The Duke of Sussex Pentateuch”.                                             This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is duke-of-sussex-1.jpg       “V’Yidaber” Duke of Sussex Pentateuch,  by Hayyim, c. 1300

The Duke of Sussex Pentateuch was written and illuminated in southern Germany around 1300 by a scribe-artist known only as Hayyim. The “carpet page” (illuminated title page) shows four knights drawn in fine line work and with surprisingly delicate features. Each represents one of the tribes that camped around the Tent of Meeting, displaying their tribal flags.  The fantastical beasts with human faces are quite intriguing. 

It is intriguing that the Jewish artist had painted the leaders of the tribes of Israel as crusaders. I assume that was the only context the Jews of Germany had for soldiers. Even though these men are wearing crusader uniforms they are b’nei Yisrael warriors ready for battle.  I gave them weapons and the flag of the Tribe of Menashe.

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Rather than depending on the uniforms of other nations, now we can be proud of our Jewish soldiers in a Jewish army defending our Jewish State of Israel in their own uniforms.

The story of Yiftach is yet another story of family relationships, discussion, and pride. The brothers selfishly expelled Yiftach from their family. When they were desperate for help they appealed to him and he returned. He didn’t allow his pride to stand in the way of saving his tribe. Both Moses and Yiftach tried to negotiate with the nations who stood against them in order to avoid war. Either pride or greed stopped the Amorites and the Ammonites from settling with the Israelites. In each case the Israelites won the battles. These narratives are lessons to us to negotiate in good faith and fulfill our relationships with open hearts, and good faith.

Now, about the exhibit. For the last few years I have been posting blogs featuring paintings referring to Tanach and Bible narratives. Now these images are on display at the Beth Tzedec Museum in Toronto, Canada. As well as 88 prints from my haftarah series, there are also ketuboth, handmade books, and the Megillat Esther  I created for the Gilbert-Schachter family. Most of the work on display is available for purchase. The exhibit is up until October 24, 2019. Please come and take a look, and let me know what you think! 

Beth Tzedec Reuben and Helene Dennis Museum                                                  1700 Bathurst St, Toronto, ON M5P 3K3                                                                    Hours: When the synagogue is open       7 days a week, 8:00 a.m.  – 9:30 p.m.    

Have a Shabbat Shalom,  Laya


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